Undiagnosed Childhood

School reports are interesting reading when you look back through the lens of a late diagnosis.

5: “She needs practice with manipulative skills as she finds cutting and sticking quite difficult and is rather heavy-handed… She is strong minded and does not always concentrate fully to give her best performance.”

6: “She is very sensitive and needs constant re-assurance”

7: “Although very careful she should now try to increase the speed of her calculations and her concentration”

Although these are only brief lines in a myriad of other statements, they provide necessary details:

  • difficulties with physical activity and co-ordination
  • rigidity
  • deficits in social communication and social interaction
  • hyper- or hyporeactivity to sensory input
  • symptoms present in the early developmental period

The question remains, though, how to help the general public to recognise what autism looks like in girls?

I’m autistic, but…

My house is incredibly untidy.

I’m extremely disorganised.

I’m a woman.

Sometimes I get lonely.

I feel other people’s pain deeply (I just can’t always explain it).

I have feelings. Lots of feelings. Intense feelings. (But I cannot always name them, or express them in the way you expect).

Sometimes I get bored of my special interests.

I am a fully qualified doctor, and I work as such (autistics are over-represented within the field of medicine).

You probably wouldn’t be able to tell on first meeting me (this is called social masking).

Routine

One of the well known features of autism is the need for, or the performance of, routines and rituals. Prior to my diagnosis, I would sometimes second guess myself as to whether this was a feature I had. I think, on reflection, it is possibly an area where girls look different to boys. No, I don’t line up trains or have to do certain maths puzzles at certain times of day, but my days and weeks are very similar and I feel more comfortable when everything is “as it should be.”

The patterns and routines I follow mean I know what will happen next. Sudden changes throw me – my brain can’t take in the new information, formulate a response, and then act on it. Shifting focus and task is like trying to reverse bay park an enormous ocean liner – disconcerting, unwieldy and liable to cause damage.

The trouble is, when you’re a “high functioning” autistic, who seems to have their life organised and neatly planned, your difficulty in changing is seen as deliberate and is liable to be punished, which only exacerbates the overwhelm inside the autistic brain.

So, I keep to my routines. They make it all calm. Step one is followed by step two, which is followed by step three. It’s simple when you know how.

Autism and Christianity

I was created this way – I don’t fully understand God’s good purposes in designing me this way, but I know that they will turn out for his glory. Autism isn’t an illness, so it isn’t something that I can be cured of – it’s more like a personality, the way my brain is wired, the way my mind works. Sometimes it makes living for Christ easier, sometimes it makes it harder.

Christianity reminds me that my identity is in Christ, not in my social difficulties, and that God loves me completely, no matter what. He doesn’t care if I meet the narrow social definitions of “acceptability” and “coolness” – he loves me as his precious precious child.

Autism reminds me that I am a stranger and alien in this world, that this world is not my home, and that there will be a better life, in a better home, where interactions won’t be a struggle and a minefield.









Geek

Glasses, braces, bright, loves science, loves reading, loves computers. Your archetypal geek. Popularised by television shows, showing the awkward geeky boy having a heart of gold, and the sweet, but also popular and ridiculously pretty girl as they fall in love. But what if the geek is a girl?

What if she’s cheeky but a bit socially awkward? What if she wants to succeed but absolutely hates breaking rules?

Compromising between “fitting in” as girls often want to do, and following her interests, which often aren’t seen as “cool” or “feminine.” Bowing to social norms and expectations, but constantly feeling at odds with them. Oscillating between acceptance and not caring what others think. Skimming the edges of “normal.”

Surfing the edge of the bell curve.

Weird

I’ve always been the odd one out.

I was the three-year-old whose nursery report read, “Colouring: Tries hard and can colour well. She is very competitive.” You didn’t know it was possible to colour competitively, did you? Apparently I was doing it at three-years-old!

Aged five, I was, “strong minded and doesn’t always concentrate fully to give her best performance.” I knew what I was interested in, and if I wasn’t interested, nothing could make me bother.

By seven, I wanted to slide down snowy hills on a tea-tray, just because someone had done it in a book I once read. I loved to read. Anything, everything. I once ended up in serious trouble because I removed the cellophane on a box set of Winnie-the-Pooh books I had found, and started reading them. I’m not even sure if the books were intended for me!

Rules were for keeping, even if I didn’t quite understand their meaning. Aged six or seven, the fire alarm went off during break time – I had my treasured teddy with me, but knew if there was a fire alarm, you didn’t take your belongings with you, so I went inside into the classroom, put my teddy back inside, then went back outside to line up with the rest of the class. (Don’t worry, it was a drill, the teddy is still very much with us, although somewhat greyer and older, not unlike his owner.)

Up until around seven, it was okay to be a little eccentric, to do things differently, because that’s what little children do – they have crocodiles living under the bed, the tooth fairy comes at night, and their imaginary friend needs a separate seat at the table. It doesn’t take long, though, for other children to sense the “otherness” – to realise you’re atypical, not “one of them.” But for then, it was okay.

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